With the anniversary of Roe v. Wade on Jan. 22, the words “pro-choice” seem to be everywhere. You’ll hear them in impassioned speeches, and see them on colorful posters, on blogs and in tweets. And when you do, you’ll probably think of abortion.
That’s understandable. And undeniably, the right to choose an abortion is something that must be protected. A woman chooses abortion for the most intimate, personal reasons, and no one else is qualified to make that choice.
But abortion is far from the only choice a woman makes about her reproductive health. And if you really think about it, why wait to defend those reproductive health choices until she is at the door of an abortion clinic?
True freedom of choice — about sex, and if and when to have children — starts way before then. A woman’s ability to choose the family she wants often depends on her economic status, her knowledge, and her access to health services, including contraception. It also depends on where she lives; services varies greatly from state to state and country to country.
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And in every state and country, politicians are at the center of the decisions about women’s reproductive choices. Last year, conservative forces in Congress and many state legislatures proposed, and in some cases passed, laws that restricted women’s access to vital reproductive health services. Some politicians even talked of banning birth control. And the assault wasn’t limited to within our borders. Proposed cuts to international family planning funding and an attempt to reinstate the Global Gag Rule threatened to further limit the choices of women in developing countries.
Already, 215 million women in developing countries want to avoid pregnancy but lack access to or information about modern contraception. Some women can’t get accurate information, and don’t use contraception because of myths about side effects or infertility. Others travel long distances to the nearest health clinic, only to find the contraceptives they need are out of stock.
There are child brides who go on to become teen moms, many against their own wishes. There are 53 million unintended pregnancies and 251,000 maternal deaths each year that could be prevented if we met women’s needs for family planning and maternal health services.
Having better choices in any of these scenarios could make a profound difference in a woman’s life. And that’s something to get passionate about too. So as we mark the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, let’s understand “pro-choice” with its intended, more holistic meaning, and fight for the full range of reproductive choices for all women.
Let’s be “pro” not just about abortion, but also about:
- The choice to get accurate, comprehensive information about contraception.
- The choice to marry or be single; and to have sex only when ready.
- The choice to delay childbearing, space births, and decide when to stop having kids.
- The choice of health clinics with competent professionals, that don’t take hours or days to get to.
- The choice of birth control pills and IUDs and condoms and other contraceptive methods.
It may not be the stuff of buttons and posters, but it’s the stuff of everyday life.